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We need to make more students cry

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Last week the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Auckland held its VentureLab showcase. Four teams, each winners from last year’s Velocity entrepreneurship programme, spent the last six months developing their ideas further in a virtual incubator. The ventures are interesting on their own, but what moved me is the passion and emotion with which each team spoke, with two presenters breaking into tears.

These were not tears of failure or frustration, rather for the realisation of what they had learned and achieved, how the course of their life had changed, and of gratefulness to their mentors.

This is a common enough experience for those of us involved in entrepreneurship education. But I doubt many professors have had students cry at the end of their course, except perhaps if they failed the exam!

The transformation that students undergo when they are involved in an intense entrepreneurship experience is massive and can occur with breath-taking swiftness. One day they are students, with the concerns of a student: when is the next assignment due, will I pass the exam, and what are we doing on Friday night? The next day, they are the CEO of a company. From that perspective they ask: how is the content of this course relevant to my company, what is most important for me to work on next, what can I learn from each person I meet, and who might be a good member of my team?

The key to transformative learning is the kind of meaningful experiences provided by entrepreneurship education. Students become CEO/founders and other roles in companies and relate their learning to the needs of developing the venture. They construct meaning based on their own experiences and learn in a natural and intense way that is not possible in the artificial confines of the classroom.

Of course, transformative learning experiences can be created in other ways as well, for example, though work integrated learning, service learning, and in vertically integrated research projects.

You have to experience this transformation to understand it, but once you do, it will deeply affect your view about what we should be doing in higher education. Our perspective needs to shift from developing professionals with expertise in their discipline to challenging students to believe they can change their world and helping them to develop the confidence and capabilities to do so.

Universities need to expand their capacity to offer these powerful experiences so that we can make more students cry.

Read about this year’s VentureLab participants

Rod McNaughton, Academic Director of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

James Hutchinson
James Hutchinson

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Last week the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Auckland held its VentureLab showcase. Four teams, each winners from last year’s Velocity entrepreneurship programme, spent the last six months developing their ideas further in a virtual incubator. The ventures are interesting on their own, but what moved me is the passion and emotion with which each team spoke, with two presenters breaking into tears.

These were not tears of failure or frustration, rather for the realisation of what they had learned and achieved, how the course of their life had changed, and of gratefulness to their mentors.

This is a common enough experience for those of us involved in entrepreneurship education. But I doubt many professors have had students cry at the end of their course, except perhaps if they failed the exam!

The transformation that students undergo when they are involved in an intense entrepreneurship experience is massive and can occur with breath-taking swiftness. One day they are students, with the concerns of a student: when is the next assignment due, will I pass the exam, and what are we doing on Friday night? The next day, they are the CEO of a company. From that perspective they ask: how is the content of this course relevant to my company, what is most important for me to work on next, what can I learn from each person I meet, and who might be a good member of my team?

The key to transformative learning is the kind of meaningful experiences provided by entrepreneurship education. Students become CEO/founders and other roles in companies and relate their learning to the needs of developing the venture. They construct meaning based on their own experiences and learn in a natural and intense way that is not possible in the artificial confines of the classroom.

Of course, transformative learning experiences can be created in other ways as well, for example, though work integrated learning, service learning, and in vertically integrated research projects.

You have to experience this transformation to understand it, but once you do, it will deeply affect your view about what we should be doing in higher education. Our perspective needs to shift from developing professionals with expertise in their discipline to challenging students to believe they can change their world and helping them to develop the confidence and capabilities to do so.

Universities need to expand their capacity to offer these powerful experiences so that we can make more students cry.

Read about this year’s VentureLab participants

Rod McNaughton, Academic Director of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship


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